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Kidney Failure in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Dec 10, 2020
AUTHOR Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian with a passion for providing reliable veterinary insight & expert advice to help pet parents better care for their pups.

  • Two main types of kidney failure occur in dogs: chronic renal failure and acute renal failure.
  • Signs of kidney failure in dogs include drinking and urinating excessively, vomiting, weight loss, and lethargy.
  • Dogs with kidney failure are typically treated with supportive care including hospitalization, fluid support, dog kidney failure diets, and medications to help balance electrolytes.
  • The main preventative measures for kidney failure in dogs are to avoid toxic substances, give your dog monthly tick preventative, and vaccinate your dog for leptospirosis.

What Causes Kidney Problems in Dogs?

Kidney disease is a common condition seen in dogs of all ages. Two types of kidney failure may occur in dogs. 

Chronic Renal Failure

Chronic renal failure is caused by a slow decrease in the function of the kidneys over time and usually occurs in older dogs. As the kidneys age, the cells within the kidneys begin to die and degenerate. This form of kidney failure is usually non-reversible. The main goal of treatment in chronic renal failure is to help prolong the life and improve symptoms associated with the disease.

Acute Renal Failure

Acute kidney failure in dogs can occur within hours after exposure to a toxic substance or an infectious disease. Because the damage occurs quickly, sometimes there is a chance to save the kidneys if treatment is instituted quickly and aggressively. 

Some of the most common toxic substances and infectious diseases that may cause kidney failure in dogs include: 

  • Antifreeze
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Advil (ibuprofen)
  • Overdose of vitamins
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease

Signs of Kidney Problems in Dogs

The main signs of kidney problems in dogs include a sudden change in drinking or urination habits. Dogs that have kidney problems usually drink excessive amounts of water or ask to go out to pee frequently. Anytime you notice a new symptom like this, it is important to contact your veterinarian immediately.

Many clients ask me, “is kidney failure in dogs painful?” My answer is that many causes of kidney failure do not cause a lot of pain, but your dog probably feels very sick and weak like you feel when you have the flu. That being said, there are some causes and symptoms of kidney disease that can cause pain such as mouth ulcers or kidney pain due to severe infections. The best way to determine if your dog is painful from kidney failure is to ask your veterinarian.

Here is a list of the most common symptoms of kidney failure in dogs:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Vomiting
  • Foul odor breath
  • Decreased appetite or not eating
  • Weight loss
  • In severe cases, urine production may decrease or stop completely

Diagnosing Dog Kidney Problems

If your dog has any of the symptoms described above or has eaten any of the toxic substances listed above, you should get your dog to a veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can run a urinalysis test and blood work to determine if your dog is in kidney failure. Urine concentration (urine specific gravity), BUN (blood urea nitrogen), and Creatinine are the most common tests to determine if your dog is in kidney failure. Your vet may want to perform additional advanced tests to check for infectious diseases or other underlying causes of kidney failure in your dog.

How Are Kidney Problems Treated?

Initial treatment of kidney failure in dogs includes hospitalization and IV fluid therapy. Your veterinarian will determine what the underlying cause of the kidney disease is and treat it with appropriate medications and therapies. Dogs with kidney failure often must be hospitalized for several days to weeks to become stabilized prior to discharge.

If your veterinarian can stabilize your dog and wean them off of IV fluids without the kidney values rapidly increasing, they will send your dog home on a dog kidney failure diet which is specially formulated to be easy on the kidneys. They may also prescribe your dog oral medications to help reduce the risk of ulcers or to control electrolyte imbalances secondary to kidney failure. In addition, if your dog is moving more slowly and having a harder time moving around because of the kidney disease, consider getting a PawRamp.

The cost of treating kidney failure in dogs can vary depending on what the underlying cause of the kidney failure is and how severe the illness is. Mild forms of kidney disease which are caught early may only incur minor costs. Severe forms of kidney disease in dogs may cost hundreds to upwards of one to two thousand dollars to treat depending on the severity of your dog’s disease.

What Happens if Kidney Problems Go Untreated?

If kidney failure goes untreated, your dog will get progressively sicker and eventually pass away. Dogs need their kidneys to function properly to survive. Unfortunately, if no treatment is done, your dog will get more sick over time.

Preventing Kidney Problems in Dogs

The main ways to prevent kidney problems in dogs is to prevent exposure to harmful infectious diseases and toxic substances. Ensure that you keep toxic items like grapes, raisins, antifreeze, and Advil away from your pet as these items are extremely dangerous. I have seen a dog go into kidney failure after eating just a few raisins or a few Advil tablets. To read about other toxic foods for your dog, read this article on Common Household Foods That Are Toxic To Your Dog.

In addition to protecting against toxic substances, you can also protect against infectious diseases that may cause kidney problems. Leptospirosis can cause kidney failure in dogs, so I recommend that most pets get a leptospirosis vaccine to prevent this disease. Lyme disease can cause kidney failure, so I highly recommend placing your dog on a monthly tick preventative like Nexgard which has shown to be effective at preventing Lyme disease if given regularly. If you are interested in learning more about my favorite recommendations for flea and tick preventatives and Lyme disease in dogs, be sure to check out these articles on How To Remove a Tick From Your Dog and How To Spot Fleas on Dogs.

When to See A Vet

It is important to see a vet anytime your pet has a new symptom especially vomiting, lethargy, or changes in drinking and urination habits. In addition, if your dog has eaten something toxic like grapes, raisins, antifreeze, or Advil, you should visit an emergency veterinarian immediately. Early and aggressive treatment improves the prognosis for your dog surviving.

Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian who lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, greyhound, and four cats. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and currently practices in the central Kentucky region. Dr. Addie has special interests in preventative care, dermatology, and diseases, and she enjoys creating helpful educational resources related to these topics to help pet parents keep their four-legged family members happy and healthy. We love Dr. Addie’s passion for providing reliable veterinary insight and medical advice to help pet parents like us give their pups the happy & healthy lives they deserve!

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